7 Alternatives to Traditional Vocabulary Tests

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It is through vocabulary that information is accessed and content learned. There is no disagreement in the importance of a robust vocabulary for all students; it allows them to comprehend more of what they read and write better. But the way we review and test vocabulary is often very painful, and it doesn’t have to be. So toss aside your fill-in-the-blank tests and multiple choice bubble sheets and try one of these out before the end of the year.

 

7 Alternatives to the Traditional Vocabulary Test

  1. Name That Vocab. Tune – Students love music, in fact, I bet most kids under 18 have earbuds in right now and are jamming out to their favorite tunes as they are studying. Why not amplify this love of music on a vocabulary review or assessment. “Name That Vocab. Tune” has students create a catchy title for a song using the word given. To further demonstrate understanding, students explain and justify their song title and how the vocabulary word fits their thinking.

 

Word Song Title Justification
Juxtapose Black Juxtaposition of Our Hearts When you really love someone and they have no interest in you at all then your heart would be red but their heart would be black and by placing them side by side …

 

2. Sketch Vocabulary – Sketch vocabulary is an activity that allows students to use their creative side to illustrate the meaning of vocabulary words. This strategy can be both low-tech with paper, pencils, and markers; or high-tech using apps like Procreate , Paper 53 , or even the new drawing function with Google Keep (perfect for Chromebooks).

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3. SAN – SANs strategy has students identify a word that is the synonym, the antonym or no relation at all to the vocabulary term listed. It not only forces their brain to think of the word differently but also increases their vocabulary by flooding their brain with different options.

Example   Disruptive

  • Clumsy (N)
  • Calm (A)
  • Troublesome (S)

4. How Does it Relate? – This strategy has students call upon prior learning during the test. Have students list and make associations to previous words learned and listed on the word wall in the classroom. Answering the prompt, what is the connection?, further demands deep thinking while students are wrestling with essential vocabulary.

5. Skit or Dialogue – Using the vocabulary words, students can write a short skit or lines of dialogue individually or with a partner or small group. When finished, perform their scripts to each other or a wider audience. Or take their writing online and have them create comics. A few of my favorite resources to explore, Storyboard That (Chromebook) and BookCreator.

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6. 1 of 2 – This strategy has the students considering 2 sentences and identify which one uses the vocabulary word correctly. This is great when working on words with multiple meanings or focusing on a specific morpheme.

7. Tableau – Finally, a tableau is a group of models or motionless figures that represent a scene. In this case, students are given a vocabulary word and have 3 minutes to brainstorm their tableau that demonstrates the meaning of the word for the class. This fun activity has students collaborating and up and moving.  

 

Edtech Bonus for Vocabulary:

Quizlet

Worducate

Spell It

Spell Up

3 Instructional Strategies to Support Literacy in all Classrooms

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“All educators are teachers of literacy”

– a common phrase I echo when speaking or writing. Notice, I did not say “All educators are teachers of reading,” which would demand a skill set many educators do not have, although that is often what most people think when they hear the first statement. There are no expectations for educators at the middle and high school grades to understand reading instruction (phonological awareness, decoding, fluency, etc.), instead, expectations reside in supporting student understanding in literacy acquisition in discipline-specific consumption and creation.

The Question Becomes How?

With this lens, fears often subside and educators realize that they are the EXPERT in that content area. The question then turns to – How? Zooming out to a wider view of discipline literacy, one understands that much content learning by students is done through reading or viewing and their demonstration of understanding is exhibited through writing or communicating in some form. From the larger view, teachers can then zoom back into specific disciplines and ask themselves what are the skills a student must possess to tackle discipline-specific texts (which includes multiple modes) and what components of communication do I need to teach in order for students write and create in a discipline-specific way.

3 Instructional Strategies

The How is one area that I am often asked to address with staff. I offer 3 Instructional Strategies that are applicable to any discipline and support literacy in any classroom:

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ExamplesA History Teacher demonstrating how historians read and make sense of primary sources. Read/think aloud text – Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. A reading strategy historians often use is to consider the time period it was written in and what was happening in the world during that time to help them understand meaning and context. This would be modeled aloud to students.  Math –  Rafranz Davis shared with me a movement among math educators, shifting the focus from test made questions to real-world problems. During a read/think aloud in math class,  Davis suggests utilizing Polya’s 4 Step Method as a model to demonstrate to students – 1. Understand the problem. 2. Devise a plan. 3. Carry out the plan. 4. Look Back. Students can call upon this strategy anytime they approach an unfamiliar example.

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ExampleAlice Keeler provided the perfect example foridentifying Concept and Label vocabulary in a math classroom. Students are given a problem to solve and explain their thinking around parabolic, cubic, and porabolas within the context of 2 illustrations, one is a visual of a climbing path for El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, the other a water fountain. Parabolic would be an example of a Concept vocabulary term, as opposed to Yosemite, bagging the peak, or bushwhacking. The last 3 terms are ones the teacher would define for students and move on, on the other hand, concept vocabulary would demand more attention in both the instruction via the teacher and the acquisition and demonstration by the student. Providing a non-example, such as the climbing path, also pushes kids to think differently and solidify their demonstration of understanding of a concept.

 

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Example – A science teacher uses multiple lab reports published in a scientific journal as a mentor example. Students examine how the data sets were organized, recurring vocabulary, and structure. The content of the lab report may not be an area that is covered in the course, but as a mentor example, students to grasp the essential components of a lab report – how labels work to inform to support the format, the proper way to insert lists and data into the report, and when longer explanations are needed in paragraph form on lab reports.

 

Once educators understand the Why of discipline-specific literacy, the How is the next step in learning. Applying these 3 instructional strategies will help students consume and create discipline-specific literacies.

Sources:

Polya – Berkely  

What is Disciplinary Literacy and Why it Matters – Shanahan & Shanahan 

Technofy Your Vocabulary Instruction

Technofied Vocabulary Instruction

I do love a challenge, and my friend and fellow Certified Google Innovator, Alicia Brooks offered the perfect one a few weeks ago. Alicia wanted ideas for blending sound vocabulary instruction with intentional technology. I gladly accepted the challenge, it was a way to blend my passions in literacy and technology.

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Technofied Vocabulary Instruction  (1)All learning is based in language! It is also a part of the Common Core State Standards, based off of the work of Isabel Beck.  But instead of aligning vocabulary instruction to a mandate that could change as quickly as politics, I like to instead anchor my beliefs in what’s best for kids. Word learning is a way to understand concepts more deeply, connect to topics and information intentionally, approach challenging words with strategies good readers use to make sense of complicated texts, and to transfer this understanding into consumption and creation! Along with those beliefs, I also knew there were two important research-grounded assumptions on word learning.

  1. Word learning is not incremental – it is not like an on – off switch; instead, it is more like a dimmer switch, strengthening what we know.
  2. Students learn many more words than we can teach them during school hours or with direct vocabulary instruction.

Understanding these two assumptions, educators recognize vocabulary instruction must be multifaceted. Student learning of vocabulary and instruction of vocabulary must come from multiple angles. Students must have multiple exposures to build depth and understanding . On average, students learn 3,000-4,000 words a year from grades K to 12th. This amount of word learning far surpasses what can be taught in the classroom. Learning of words happens incidentally and from all types of contexts; in school, out of school, from communication and conversations, television, social media, and music. Students are constantly learning words!

When determining how to teach vocabulary, I like to use the following neumonic developed by Blachowicz & Fisher.

Flood – Flood your classroom with words related to your concept or topic. Not all learning requires intentional and teacher-directed instruction. Enriched environments that promote interesting encounters students have with words increases incidental learning.

Fast – Use fast instruction when an easy definition or analogy will build on knowledge the students already have. Instruction is fast paced where the teacher identifies the word, provides a synonym, gives an example of use, and then asks students to provide their own connection or synonym

Focus – Use focus instruction for words where deeper, semantically rich teaching of a new concept is required. Instruction involves both definitional and contextual information, multiple exposures to the word and it’s meaning, and deep levels of processing so that students develop a rich base for word meaning.

Technofied Vocabulary Instruction  (2)Technology provides support to both educators and students on vocabulary instruction and word learning. For instance, applying the 4 components of a multifaceted and comprehensive vocabulary instruction, students are encouraged to identify vocabulary that is unfamiliar to them in their independent reading, mentor example, or nonfiction article from another class. This choice recognizes different needs, prior knowledge, and interests students have in your classroom. Use semantic mapping to aid in the learning. Try Coggle, as a way students can organize and group their word work.

Technofied Vocabulary Instruction  (3)Hyperslides (a dynamic presentation in which different slides are linked together, providing choice to the student. Think a digital form of Choose Your Own Adventure.) can be used for a short student analysis, or to provide students with a quick way to strengthen their understanding and exposure through a “Would you rather” question. I have found it best to model an example and provide as a future option for student creation. When students construct their own understanding, word learning is deepened. Click here to experience a short demo I created with Google Slides.

Technofied Vocabulary Instruction  (5)Model it – word learning is supported through enriched environments where students are word aware! Educators must do their part as well, seeing that vocabulary acquisition is largely incidental. Crosswords, word games, vocabulary websites, thinking aloud your own struggles when encountering a difficult word, videos, images and word walls demonstrate the constant vocabulary learning by the teacher. I am a collector of moments and beautiful words, and one of my favorite things to do is identify and Pin literacy devices I find on Pinterest. This modeling is one that students enjoy and frequent, noticing the additions and pinning some to their boards.

Technofied Vocabulary Instruction  (6)Graphic Dictionaries are great for Tier 3 words that are content specific. Have students create their own graphic dictionary according to content or unit. Use Google Docs and the (g)math add-on to create a Math Term Graphic Dictionary! It is not only functional and individualized by each student, but it provides an opportunity to utilize a digital resource available.

Farnsworth Instagram TemplateFinally, try using social media to engage, create, and collaborate digitally with students through Wuzzles (word puzzles). Share a class Instagram account in which all students take turns posting to, or utilize your own Snapchat app and stories to post Wuzzles to extend learning. Another alternative is to create and use templates that models form and structure found on social media platforms. Create a Vocab-O-Gram with an Instragram template found HERE.

Source: Gambrell, Linda B. and Lesley Mandel Morrow, eds. Best Practices in Literacy

Instruction. New York: Guilford. 2015. Print.